[Abridged translation of an interview from Página/12 of Buenos Aires for September 19. See original here.]
by Gustavo Veiga
In Honduras, he took part in the resistance movement against the coup that deposed President Manuel Zelaya and a year later he had to seek exile. Despite the fact that Zelaya returned to Honduras and there is now an elected government, dozens of opponents have been assassinated with the coming of a wave of supposed street violence.
Why did you have to go into exile in Argentina after fighting for a year against the coup d’état against Manuel Zelaya in Honduras?
Because there are disguised political assassinations in my country and the Honduran army has the best advisers, Colombians as well as Israelis, for carrying them out. Singers of popular music are turning up run over by cars or activists done away with, with their pants pockets turned out. Street violence has been increased deliberately to cover up political assassinations. The Porfirio Lobo government has allowed these deaths. Fourteen journalists have been assassinated in Honduras during his government. That’s why I’m not going back.
When did you leave your country?
I left June 26, 2010, two days before the first anniversary of the coup.
Were you being threatened?
I went through a kidnapping attempt along with my wife, as well as an assassination attempt that I got through unharmed. And what the golpistas did not understand is how I found out about them or how I knew those things. They could have killed me and they didn’t. What they wanted was to kidnap me but I was too slippery for them, I always figured them out. They wanted to get information from me first and then kill me. They wanted to know how I knew so much.
And how did you manage to get information and stay ahead of the golpistas?
Because I was in charge of security for the Frente Nacional de Resistencia Popular. The indigenous people’s discipline taught us a lot. After 150 days on the streets we began to adopt the three-row method in demonstrations. They are more organized than many people. They form three lines and they do not move in massive groups so they can know who it is that’s provoking disturbances. That was the way to know if an infiltrator was there to provoke desmadres [disturbances, trouble], as we say there. We learned that the mayor of Tegucigalpa at the time of the coup sent people with Molotov cocktails to set fire to Popeye’s, which are locations of a transnational fast-food chain. They burned a bus and blamed us. You can’t know the number of infiltrators we caught. We turned them over to the police and they did nothing. The same with the prosecutor.
Did you participate in taking over the Brazilian embassy, where former President Zelaya took refuge?
I managed to stay in the embassy and part of my group was with me. The core of Zelaya’s security, the Frente’s security, stayed. But later, for strategic reasons, I left because we had to have someone outside organizing the struggle, which was still going on. We continued the struggle in the streets with another small group. We left one by one and some were detected readily. They started assassinating them, they did it to two and then continued with the rest. Then they relieved us all, the core, about 50 of us.
What did you do then and until you managed to leave Honduras?
I needed a place to struggle from. I couldn’t do it from the student front because I was no longer a student, I hadn’t registered. And someone else was the coordinator. I looked up the Human Rights Platform and they told me, “Come with us.” I became part of CODEH, the Comité para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos en Honduras, and in two months the persecution began, they started following me, sending anonymous messages to my sister’s house. They watched the house, there were no safe houses, but we had reliable information about what was going to happen. Not all the police or all the army were in favor of the coup. And that was in our favor. From CODEH I went underground. During those three months they didn’t manage to get me out of the country. The Human Rights Platform wanted me to leave for Spain, but they never gave me a special visa for human rights defenders, there was never a response.
Where did you finally go?
I left for Costa Rica. CODEH monitored me from the time I left Tegucigalpa until I got to the Nicaraguan border. I crossed that entire country and I didn’t stop until I got to Costa Rica. Cecilia Arce, a human rights defender, took me to her house. She had a number of Honduran exiles there. She let me stay for a week and then she told me, “My house isn’t going to be good for you. There is a Honduran who is a poet, who can help you.” And I went to San José, Costa Rica. I looked for my countryman, who has two restaurants, and he gave me a job. The same week that I started, we found out that they were watching the restaurant and they were following me.
Who was watching you?
I began to realize that Costa Rica is a platform for the United States, where the Colombian DAS is, the Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad, and the CIA. Even the FBI makes arrests there, they manage very well. Then I realized that it was the worst place I could have chosen. Why not go to Nicaragua?, some would say. Or El Salvador? Well, okay, there are questions that are difficult to answer right now, it would put me in a very difficult situation… We finally left for Bolivia.
You left together with your family?
I left Costa Rica September 13 and on the 14th arrived in El Alto, in Bolivia. And on the 15th , at the same time of day, I rejoined my wife and my son. On September 15, independence day in Central America, my wife and I met at one in the morning, when it was six degrees centigrade and at 4,000 meters altitude. The next day I was in the foreign affairs ministry and I had nowhere to live. They took me to a refuge for immigrants. I spent a month there and then I went to Huanuni, a mining town…
How did you get to Buenos Aires?
In a bus from La Quiaca, a trucho [“low quality,” in Argentine slang] bus, as you say here. I didn’t have enough money, since if I took an ordinary bus to Buenos Aires I wouldn’t be able to eat and on the way we ate only once to save money…
What circumstances are you under in Argentina?
I made contact with ACNUR [Agencia de la ONU para los Refugiados – United Nations Agency for Refugees] and they sent me to the Catholic commission for aid to refugees. Then they began to investigate a little and the next day they gave us 700 pesos in financial aid that we didn’t have and that allowed us to move around underground without documents, without anything. Then I got a temporary document, the first I got in Argentina. With that, I can work. They summoned me one day to testify to everything and I am waiting for a ruling that will be for six months to a year. If the state granted me refuge, I would agree to stay two years. With this document, despite it’s being legal to work, nobody will hire us.
What is your family history? When did you begin to be interested in politics?
At home, my father had one picture of Che Guevara and another of Jesus Christ. He would say that the best revolutionaries were Che and Jesus. And from there I began understanding a lot of things, listening to the music of the Guaraguao of Venezuela, revolutionary music. My father was president of a union, the strongest one in San Pedro Sula, on the northern coast. The military made him resign, they told him, leave the union or die. At that point I realized that my father had to make a choice, being a member of the Communist Party, between defying the military or protecting his seven children. My father left the union, since other comrades had been assassinated or disappeared. In the Honduran PC you had to be underground, it was banned, you couldn’t talk about the PC. My mother had to keep the picture of Che because the fact of having it was enough for them to search the house and for something to happen.
What years are you talking about?
It was 1976, 1977… almost ’78.
Who was dictator of Honduras at that time?
At that time, it was Juan Alberto Melgar Castro, then there was a military triumvirate, with Policarpo Paz García at the head of it. Those are the ones I remember, because I was seven or eight years old. When the political scene began to change, my father became active in the Partido Liberal, which was Zelaya’s party. But he was always in a rodista faction. Because in 1981 there was talk that Modesto Rodas Alvarado was going to be president. But he died before the elections. He was the father of the woman who was Zelaya’s foreign minister, Patricia Rodas. And this man’s political line was progressive. I have a twin brother, René, and my father told both of us to read, he taught us to read. My brother left Honduras for Spain three months after the coup, when they tried to assassinate him.
The rest of your family is still in your country?
I have three brothers in the United States and two in Honduras who are students at the Universidad Pedagógica. One of them is a special person because he has burns over almost his entire body and he still belongs to the student movements. He has even been threatened and he was just arrested. His name is Pedro Joaquín. Of the five of us boys, I am the only one who has been in the military. I was in the navy on the northern coast, on the Atlantic. I had the opportunity there to learn about CIA training. They did it with a piranha squadron and the Honduran naval commandos they trained to support the Nicaraguan contra and to attack the Sandinistas. They also went after the FMLN of El Salvador, all over the Gulf of Fonseca. For two months I was trained as a recruit and I went into communications because I had been a radio operator before I went in. My father had gotten me into that in the journalistic media where he worked. So I had more direct contact with the officers and I began to learn about a lot of secrets, a lot of espionage stuff from there against Nicaragua and El Salvador. I realized it was being done from the tip of Tigre Island, where there was a North American radar base that only certain Honduran officers had access to.
Your father is a journalist as well as being a unionist?
He is a militant above all and winner of the 2007 Oscar A. Flores national press prize. His name is José Manuel Amador and he lives in retirement in Honduras.
What did you after your military service?
I began to work within the student fronts and we began to get together with some who were outlawed in Honduras. Then my twin brother became active in unionism in the late ‘90s. He joined the same union my father had been forced to leave. René became secretary, within the leadership. Later he joined an organization called Los Necios [The Foolish Ones, The Stubborn Ones]. He was the only worker and all the rest were university students.
Why Los Necios? Who are they?
Los Necios are a political group named after the song by Silvio Rodríguez [Cuban singer/songwriter]. And they are an enormous network of youths in the Universidad Pedagógica that began a political project for political education, which had not existed. The organized students had to do something and all the fronts drew up a manifesto in which we supported the Zelaya government and the fourth ballot. It wasn’t the day that we began to struggle but one Wednesday Congress met to declare the president crazy or something like that. And the next day he called on the people by national network and thousands joined him on the streets and on buses to the air force base to take the electoral material that a judge had ordered decommissioned. Literally thousands of people, with the president in the lead, took the election material for the consulta popular. The government had begun to give us an opening for struggle and as the social movements, unions, student and professional movements, were strengthened because he was listening to us, we were in favor of introducing the fourth ballot. We saw the constitution as a starting point for getting out…
What is your opinion of Manuel Zelaya?
He has had among his main collaborators not only Patricia Rodas but a number of people who in the ‘80s were part of the leftist university reform front, who then graduated and went on to form his team. Many of them became ministers. Some had been temporarily disappeared and tortured in the ‘80s. These people were the base of the Alianza Liberal del Pueblo of the Partido Liberal, who were center left. And Zelaya was a rebel in his youth, he supported the hippie movement despite being of a land owning family, from the Spanish crown, and his father, a rancher and involved in deforestation in his region, Olancha.
Except for the last part, this sounds like an ideal story of a reformist youth.
He always wanted change, that’s why I say you had to know him in his youth. He also made important changes when he was a minister in the Fondo Hondureño de Inversión Social for eight years. During that time, he was in the most inhospitable regions of the country and he came across the poorest of the people. In other words, as a minister he managed to see and feel Honduran poverty. He took social projects to the farthest corners. And he set out at that time, when he was minister, to become president. He knew that he wouldn’t be able to do it together with the United States and that he had to separate himself and to seek an alternative in order to take Honduras out of poverty. That’s when he started having trouble with ambassador Charles Ford, who gave him a list of future ministers and told him, “Here they are.” And what did Mel say? Nothing. He gave the list to his aid, left those he agreed to, but he ignored it. He sent out a law prohibiting open-pit mining and favoring the campesinos. He began to get relief from the unions and even the feminists who hadn’t trusted him but then supported him because he vetoed the law against the morning-after pill, a law that would be prejudicial to women.
Where were you at the time of the coup d’état of June 28, 2009?
The day of the coup, at 5:20 in the morning, I woke up and turned on Channel 8, which is the channel Zelaya made the state channel because there wasn’t one, because it took a full newspaper for the media avalanche that came down on him, and something strange happened. I began seeing programs that had nothing to do with the fourth ballot when they should have been reporting on that. Nothing was happening. I though that was strange and five minutes later someone showed on television a poster reading “Everyone to Plaza Libertad.” They took the channel off the air but the operator managed to get those words out. The military had already raided. Nobody knew anything. And the Tigo and Claro cell phones weren’t working, but Digicel was, a company that declared its neutrality, since the other two had sided with the golpistas. Then a little message leaked out about the coup d’état and that Zelaya was being kidnapped at that moment. It was the president’s daughter who sent a message to Los Necios, specifically to Gilberto Ríos, the coordinator of the group: “Gilberto, I am under the bed. They are taking my father away.”
What is the situation now, with Zelaya back in Honduras?
With him back, the Frente Amplio de Resistencia Popular would win the presidency easily, but not the congress, under the constitution that we want to change. What is the real power in Honduras? Congress. There is no other power. It installs the Supreme Court, the prosecutors. And what does the United States embassy want it to do? To neutralize the left and the emerging new forces like us, with disguised political assassinations, infiltration by politicians who say they are helping Zelaya and force him to make mistakes, party divisions. There are fights in the Frente over who will be the candidate. They set out to divide it so it won’t win the majority of representatives. They could win even with his wife, Xiomara Castro, as candidate because Mel cannot run. The gringo embassy already knows that it doesn’t have any power in elections anymore. It could stage a fraud, as they did with López Obrador in Mexico, but a civil war would erupt.